Kevin Kelly has a lot to say about innovation as combination. Here’s a good riff:
Most new ideas and new inventions are disjointed ideas merged. Innovations in the design of clocks inspired better windmills, furnaces engineered to brew beer turned out to be useful to the iron industry, mechanisms invented for organ-making were applied to looms, and mechanisms in looms became computer software.
“In technology, combinatorial evolution is foremost, and routine,” says economist Brian Arthur in The Nature of Technology. “Many of a technologies parts are shared by other technologies, so a great deal of development happens automatically as components improve in other uses ‘outside’ the host technology.”
These combinations are like mating. They produce a hereditary tree of ancestral technologies. Just as in Darwinian evolution, tiny improvements are rewarded with more copies, so that innovations spread steadily through the population. Older ideas merge and hatch idea’-lings.Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants